Alewife updates — DCR progress on flooding issues

Since 2003, the Tri-community working group on flooding issues, now chaired by Arlington Selectman Clarissa Rowe, has worked to understand the problem of Alewife flooding, to define priorities for risk reduction and to hold agencies responsible for progress on these priorities.

Perhaps the single most immediate priority that the working group identified is to assure that the Alewife Brook and the Mystic River will have the capacity to drain large rainstorms. The responsibility for this priority falls to the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation and progress seems good.

There are three specific tasks that the working group identified within the drainage priority:

  • Removing the debris in the channel that, in storm conditions, could contribute to occlusion of the flow
  • Rebuilding the Craddock bridge and removing substructures that tend to trap debris and contribute to occlusion
  • Add pumping capacity at the Amelia Earhart sea wall to facilitate more rapid drainage of the Mystic in high water conditions.

Since I became state representative in 2007, progress on these tasks has been a central concern of mine and I have worked closely with the other representatives and Senators along the Alewife and Mystic and with the management of DCR.

Senator Donnelly has been particularly helpful recently on the issue of debris clearance and DCR management has made debris clearance finally happen. Over the past few weeks, DCR prisoner crews and DCR contractors have removed dramatic amounts of surface debris from the channel and have also cleared deadfall along the banks. The whole length of Alewife Brook, from Route 2 to the Mystic River is now readily passible and the risk of sudden flooding due to occlusions seems dramatically reduced. Local resident and long-time critic of DCR’s handling of channel maintenance, David Stoff, had nothing but superlatives to offer on a recent walk of the channel.

There is still some deadfall in the Little River, upstream from Route 2, but this part of the channel is much wider and the banks are low, so, the risk seems lower. There is little deadfall in the immediate vicinity of the Route 2 culvert.

As to the Craddock bridge, reconstruction plans are under way as part of Medford Square improvements. Last year, engineers from Cambridge, Arlington and Belmont reviewed plans under development by Mass Highway to confirm that they would maximally alleviate flooding risk. This bridge project has since been moved back to DCR and DCR engineers have evinced a strong understanding of the flood control priorities in the bridge design. Under Section 176 of the Transportation Reform Law, the bridge design will remain the responsibility of the DCR.

As to the Amelia Earhart sea wall, the news is not so good. Although Alewife area reps and Senators were able to get funds earmarked in the 2008 budget for design work on the additional pump, those funds were not expended. They were earmarked again in 2009, but the Governor cut the funds in his 9C cuts in the Fall of 2009. Commissioner Sullivan has said in 2008 that work on the pump was in his plans for spending Environmental Bond Bill funds, but the present plans are unclear. The dam safety engineers at DCR have deemed, I believe correctly, the reconstruction of the Mystic Lake dam, presently at material risk of failure, to be a higher priority, but the legislative delegation will continue to press for eventual progress on the Earhart pumping capacity.

Other outstanding issues include:

  • Dredging of Blair Pond, on the Cambridge-Belmont line to prevent the conduits that drain it from being occluded by sediment; DCR has been doing design work on this for some time and we do expect them to follow through and complete the job — this is a priority for flood control in the Hittinger/Claypit area of Belmont.
  • Actual dredging of the Alewife channel to remove accumulated sediment and subsurface debris. This is something we hope will happen, but do not believe to be as high a flood control priority. DCR has conducted some sediment sampling to evaluate the worker safety and dispoal issues but does not have present plans for dredging.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

2 replies on “Alewife updates — DCR progress on flooding issues”

  1. I truly value the progress you’ve made and your ambitions for future progress. I’ve lived in my home for 22 years now, and there were several years when we suddenly had terrible flooding in our basement, as well as flooding on Alewife Brook Parkway sufficient to require closing the road. No more.

    1. Thanks, Kathleen, I think the break through came in 2003 when DCR teams cleaned out the Craddock Bridge. It may be that the Craddock blockage was what elevated the flood levels in storms in the late 90s.

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